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Jury weighs fate of NYPD officer accused in cannibal plot

March 08, 2013|By Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays
  • A passage from the federal complaint filed against Gilberto Valle, a suspended New York City police officer charged with plotting to kidnap, cook and eat women.
A passage from the federal complaint filed against Gilberto Valle, a suspended… (Richard Drew / Associated…)

NEW YORK (AP) -- The fate of a suspended New York City police officer accused of plotting to kill and cannibalize women he knew was in the hands of jurors, who resumed deliberations Friday after doing so for a little more than an hour a night earlier.

The jury got the case late Thursday after Gilberto Valle's defense lawyer told them in closing arguments that the 28-year-old officer's elaborate plans were fantasy role-play and a prosecutor said they were "no joke."

In addition to kidnapping and conspiracy charges, Valle is accused of using a national database to learn personal information about potential targets. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

In notes to the judge on Friday, the jury asked for transcripts of the testimony of some of the women Valle allegedly targeted, and of an FBI agent who arrested him. Jurors also sought guidance on the elements of the kidnapping conspiracy charge against him.

Before jurors received the case, defense attorney Julia Gatto said Valle's chats on fetish websites about abducting, torturing and eating at least six women, including his wife, "are no more real than an alien invasion."

But Assistant U.S. Atty. Hadassa Waxman said evidence showed that Valle "left the world of fantasy and entered the world of reality." The officer's actions were "no joke," she added. "It was not just sick entertainment."

In a rebuttal argument given before the jury was to get the case, prosecutor Randall Jackson called Valle "a sexually sadistic individual."

Jackson also said the alarming material uncovered by an analysis of Valle's computers was like other investigations in which people are found "engaging in fantastical discussions about seeing planes exploding" -- a comparison that prompted the defense to ask for a mistrial, arguing that he was trying to frighten the jury with veiled reference to the 9/11 terrorist attack just blocks from the Manhattan courthouse. The judge disagreed and denied the motion.

The arguments capped a two-week trial in federal court. During the presentation of evidence, jurors sometimes appeared squeamish when shown sadistic images from Internet sites visited by Valle. The officer openly wept over his wife's testimony describing how she uncovered his late-night computer activity, fled their home with their infant child and contacted the FBI.

Valle's arrest last year interrupted a ghoulish plan to "kidnap, torture, rape and commit other horrific acts on young women," Waxman said Thursday.

The prosecutor argued that the officer took concrete steps to further the plot -- looking up potential targets on a restricted law enforcement database, searching the Internet for how to knock someone out with chloroform, and showing up on the block of one woman after agreeing to kidnap her for $5,000.

At trial, the jury heard the testimony of women who knew Valle and were trading innocent-sounding emails and texts with him at the same time prosecutors say he was scheming to make meals out of them. The government also sought to drive home the point that Valle was more of a threat because he was a police officer.

"Women who wanted no part of this were put in grave danger by that man, Gilberto Valle," Waxman said as she pointed at him.

The defense has said Valle is being prosecuted for indulging in offensive-but-harmless fantasies fed by visits to websites meant solely for role play.

Gatto started her closing argument by reading from a 2012 Valle email saying, "I just have a world in my mind and in that world I am kidnapping women and selling them to people interested in buying them."

The attorney called her client's obsession with cannibalism a "stupid, infantile" habit that destroyed his life -- but not proof of a conspiracy with three others he never met in person. The defendant, wearing a dark suit and yellow tie, again cried as his lawyer described how the case had "cost him everything," including his wife and "adorable baby."

Gatto also compared the Valle case to the infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast in 1938 that, according to popular belief, caused some people to flee their homes.

The lawyer argued that Valle's only crime was fantasizing about doing sick things to women he knew.

"That's Gil's porn," she said. "Gil has a fetish. He's had it for a long time."

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